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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Nov-18 > Is “political correctness” a force for good?

Is “political correctness” a force for good?

YES “Political correctness” (PC) arouses much sound and fury. Believers, agnostics and detractors disagree about what the term means, its mission and its place in a liberal democracy. PC unsettles traditionalists and unnerves the powerful who have wilfully distorted facts, made fake claims, and maligned those of us who believe language can be used as a weapon, that cultures are not static but dynamic, and, most importantly, there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech.

Everyone has lines that can’t be crossed. Even JS Mill, the high priest of free expression, was careful to register constraints in certain contexts—it was not, for example, acceptable to denounce a corn dealer to a mob that had gathered outside his house, and was ready to explode. There are always degrees of permissiveness, with cultural as well as legal limits that are so familiar we barely notice them. Claims about the inviolability of free expression are humbug.

Think of the long and ongoing emotional confrontation between many British Jews and the Labour Party. For a long time, Corbyn refused to accept the examples accompanying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti- Semitism. That led to accusations of anti- Semitism, internal discord and widespread excoriation. Last year, the hard-right demagogue Katie Hopkins lost her job on LBC because she called for a “final solution” after the Manchester bomb attack, words that evoked the Holocaust. I didn’t notice any outcry about free speech over either of these episodes. Both involved words, not acts.

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In Prospect's November issue: Paul Collier explains how major cities in the UK will always be in the shadow of London unless capitalism is overhauled and suggests ways that we might be able to improve the situation in those communities that capitalism has left behind. Meanwhile, Steve Bloomfield asks what is going at the Foreign Office. The once great institution that was a symbol of Britain’s global power now seems to be lost and unable to explains its role. Also, Samira Shackle explores a Pakistani protest movement that is unnerving the country’s military. Elsewhere in the issue: Dahlia Lithwick suggests that the Supreme Court will struggle to retain its authority now that Brett Kavanaugh is on the bench. Philip Ball argues that DNA doesn’t define destiny as he reviews a new book by Robert Plomin. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Simon Heffer debate political correctness.